140 in 140

I’m a writer, a label that often makes me feel as unworthy as when I first started running thirty years ago. I considered myself a jogger then; runners, I thought, win medals. For most of my life—spent largely in a financial career I never wanted—I believed the same about writing. Writers publish novels.

But if running has taught me anything about writing, it’s this: training is everything.

To run a marathon I train gradually, building speed and distance over time. The goal is simply to finish.

Writing this way deflates the all-or-nothing realm of perfectionism. Pressure-free writing trains us for the next step. Blogs teach tighter prose. Short fiction leads to a novel. Contest submissions prepare us for rejection.

At the start line of my first marathon in San Francisco so many years ago, my husband, an accomplished racer, asked me this: When does a jogger become a runner? Heart pounding, I had no answer.

“When you pin the first race number on your chest,” he told me. “Put one foot in front of the other and repeat.” His words propelled me to the finish line and inspire me in every race.

When I write, I put one word after another and repeat. And yet, I still wonder: When does a writer become a “real” writer?

It’s simple: When our words inspire others.

I train to run. I train to write. And if my words inspire, then I am a writer.


Enter the soul of a writer, runner, caregiver & beyond in my new #flashwriting project, “140 in 140.” Follow me on Twitter for 140 days of 140-character microessays.

Midnight Caller

My mother wants a phone. “If I only had a communication device,” she laments. It’s become her daily mantra.

She misses grasping the receiver, hearing a familiar voice on the other end. For years, the landline was her lifeline. It kept her company when she stopped driving. It reassured her I was alive. She rehearsed conversations, cleverly scripted to prove she was normal while Alzheimer’s stripped away her identity.

She struggles to come up with the word, but she remembers the comfort a phone represents. Besides church, it’s the only thing I wish she’d forget.

I hate phones. Robocalls aside, I prefer my conversations face-to-face. Even though I visit her every day, she forgets. My efforts to refocus have failed; I finally caved.

And so, the dementia-friendly phone patiently waits, ready to unleash fear-laden midnight calls upon a sleeping daughter.

SEX & THE CITY

My mother has a boyfriend and they’re inseparable.

It happened when I left for ten days on an out-of-town petsitting job— the longest I’d been away since she’s been in her memory care home. When I returned, there they were, sitting together on the patio love seat.

She’s giddy, obsessed. “Am I wearing enough lipstick? How’s my hair?” she asks, when he knocks on her door. As I let him in, I’m struck by another Freaky Friday reverse parenting moment. Did she feel the same apprehension when I went to the freshman dance with my first boyfriend? When a college boy took me to a concert?

“They’re definitely an item,” says my favorite staff housekeeper. When I ask if she’s ever walked in on a romantic moment between residents, she grins. “At one assisted living place. . . ” She half-kneels, pointing to her mouth.

How could I not laugh?